Sunday, February 7, 2010

Drawing Cartoon Eyes

I came across this film still from Disney's The Princess and the Frog by way of John Kricfalusi's blog. John has been pointing out (quite correctly in my opinion) how badly designed and drawn the TV shows from the 80's were. Furthermore, he contends that those bland and soulless 80's character designs live on to this day, not only on TV but also in feature film animation. Though I might be rather more charitable towards Disney's features of the last 20 years, I can't say that John is off target in this criticism either, especially when I see an example like the following that he includes:


John's correct in his assertion that some of Disney's male and female leads are bland and generic in design. I too feel like Prince Naveen in The Princess and the Frog is highly derivative of Prince Eric and Aladdin who came before him. Ideally, I'd like to have seen Naveen designed more ethnically exotic in his actual features, rather than just his flesh colour, perhaps more like the young Omar Sharif, for example. However, despite this criticism, I will defend the actual drawing and animation of Naveen as being highly competent. He is solidly drawn, if uninspired in design.

I'm afraid, however, that I cannot say the same for the three young ladies looking so adoringly at Naveen in this particular scene (undoubtedly drawn by a different animator than the one handling Naveen). I'm sorry to say that I find the drawing of these three very amateurish - more the kind of drawing I'd equate with the aforementioned 80's TV animation. I recall thinking the same thing when I saw the village sequence that opened Beauty and the Beast. There were a lot of village folk very poorly drawn and animated in that film, though all of the principal characters were handled so well. I think things got better in subsequent films, however, and I was glad to see it. But, by virtue of The Princess and the Frog being Disney's first traditionally animated feature in six years, it looks like they're saddled with some newbie animators, likely by way of TV animation, who just aren't up to speed yet with their drawing.



As it happens, I've just lectured about the design and function in drawing eyes as part of my Character Design class at Sheridan this past week, so I'd like to offer my thoughts on that subject in regard to this particular still from the Disney film, as well as this suggested revision in some of the drawing. First of all, I find the construction lacking in the drawings of these three girls, especially when compared to the better drawn Naveen. I think the head construction on all three could be tightened up a bit, and the 2nd girl could do with a more substantial nose structure too. Mostly, though, it's the construction and direction of the eyes on all three that bothers me the most. Girl #1 has eyes that are spreading out too large and show no feeling of being spherical eyeballs behind the surrounding flesh, due to the pupils being drawn without regard to the rounded surface they exist on. Girl #2 at least has elliptical pupils, suggesting a turning of form, yet they are not even close to being directed towards Naveen's eyes in order to meet his gaze. I haven't drawn Girl #3, but her pupils, drawn as perfect circles, also show no indication of turning on a rounded surface and she appears to be looking at something offscreen beyond Naveen's left ear.

I must admit, poorly drawn and unfocused eyes are a big pet peeve of mine, as it it takes so little extra effort to draw them well. Here are a couple of notes from the lecture I give on cartoon eyes:


41 comments:

A.M.Bush said...

oh cool thanks. I was thinking with the 2nd girl's nose and also the character Charlotte, that maybe they were originally designed flat, and that's them trying to adapt the original design into a more traditional disney style. I was just getting that feeling from how Charlotte looks really good from profile but looks odd turning her head. I dunno what goes on there though, I'm just a person.

Derek Edwards said...

Very Cool. These insights/ tutorials are always so informative. Can't wait to see what topic you cover next!

Katie said...

A really nice entry. I'm studying 2D animation in NYC right now, and I just began learning character construction. This was very helpful!

drunksaint said...

dont you think that u are being a little too hard on the disney people? personally, though your analysis is valid, i feel that there is very little difference b/w the 2 drawings (urs and theirs) from my point of view... calling them badly designed is definitely going too far in my opinion.

Pete Emslie said...

Sorry drunksaint, but nobody should be above criticism, not even Disney animators. Throughout Disney's history there have always been the top flight guys and the second stringers, the latter of whom generally cut their teeth on the shorts before graduating to the features. Nowadays, though, there are no shorts being produced to give new animators a chance to hone their craft at Disney. And after a 6 year absence from producing traditional drawn animation, Disney has obviously had to recruit animators from wherever they could get them in order to get "The Princess and the Frog" produced on schedule. Remember, many of their veteran talents were let go or transitioned to CG after "Home on the Range", so some less seasoned animators had to be added to the ranks.

In my revised drawings, I have deliberately not changed the basic designs of the girls, just tried to firm up the underlying structure. Mostly though, I wanted to show how the eyes construction and direction could be made much stronger through adherence to simple geometric form - treating pupils as ellipses on the turned, rounded surface of the eyes and angling them more accurately towards what they are supposed to be focused on. I mean no malice towards the animator responsible, but to pretend that the drawing of these girls is up to Disney standards would be a mistake. If Disney is to once again reach the heights of its glorious past, then both its artists and management must be dedicated towards that goal.

Niki said...

I was actually dealing with cartoon eyes earlier today. I made sure that their eyes met but the overall drawing was bad cause one of the people was added in on a whim. I made sure his eyes made sense though.

de aap said...

Good post, thanks fro sharing.

Could you please post the other notes on eyes from your class as well? I'd love to see them!

Rick Roberts said...

In the past twenty years human designs have improved at Disney for some films; Though many are a victim of the watering down machine or like Pochantas or Mulan just down right terrible.

Michael Henseler said...

Hi Pete,

thx for the little lecture. Hope there will be more in the future? It's just like getting a good chocolate-cookie: small but mouth-watering! (I'm not a princess, but - I DO BEG FOR MORE! :o)

Have a nice time and keep going.

Floyd Norman said...

I'll cut the artists some slack because I know the incredible pressure they were under to hold costs down on this film.

Having said that, I can tell you that the old timers like Milt, Frank and Ollie would have hit the ceiling.

Pete Emslie said...

Floyd - Ultimately the fault rests with former Disney CEO, Michael Eisner, who decimated the animation department while he was still in charge. Because of his shutting down traditional animation, Disney animators were either transitioned to CG animation at Disney or let go altogether, the luckier ones finding work ( again mostly in CG) at other studios.

When the decision was made by Bob Iger to revive traditional animation, it seems that they probably had to scramble to find able animators to fill the positions required. As most of the great talents had since moved on, Disney had to accept a few green rookies into the mix. I don't blame these young artists, but I do feel that their ability needed much more work before they were truly ready to work on a Disney feature film. Hopefully with more training, these new recruits will be brought up to speed for future features.

Amanda said...

Pete, I like how you redrew the girls, they're much cuter. Their original eyes are definitely a problem :/

I would love to see you draw Naveen, or how you would have drawn him anyway 8)

Floyd Norman said...

Thanks, Pete.

The fault also lies with current management who demanded an impossible schedule to complete P&TF, while screwing around with other projects for years.

As usual, management seldom takes the heat for their screw ups. Yet, the artists who deliver the goods, get a pink slip for their reward.

wsmith11 said...

Pete, you nailed the analysis. And what a huge difference between your girls and the ones from the still. Great tutorial!

Thad said...

The eyes have it!

Emily Anthony said...

I can see a huge difference, too. It's subtleties such as this that can tip animations, caricatures, etc. into greatness...or mediocrity.

Katie said...

This post was really interesting to read! I can't comment much on the lack of construction on the secondary characters since I'm no expert, but I was really disappointed by the designs themselves in this movie.

When watching a movie like this, you can see how much hard work goes into it...it's obvious that the people behind the design and animation must be super hard working and talented- but then girls like those three show up and it feels like something must be horribly awry. You're right, they really feel like something out of a TV animation, not a Disney feature. Construction aside, who decided those colors? The style of colors and clothes from that time period is so inspiring, so why doesn't it show in the character designs?

As a gigantic fan of the old Disney features, it makes me sad that the newer movies don't have the same high standards when it comes to the designs and colors and animation. And I'm not trying to be a nitpicker or naysayer- I believe there are artists who are capable of making something brilliant, but something must be holding them back. It makes me curious to know more about how these movies are run.

Eric Scales said...

Great post Pete! Badly drawn eyes drive me crazy. For a while I was totally into Eric Goldberg's way of doing eyes, where the pupil is so exaggerated that it actually sits outside the eye just a pencil line's width, but the more often I see it, the less I like it. I think what I liked about it was that it really drove home the lesson you've explained here, but perhaps it went a bit too far.

DarkRoar said...

Thanks for sharing the info on the eyes. I just draw things as a hobby and lately I've noticed how I was doing a lot of things wrong with eyes when I draw or do little animations. You've shown me a lot here with these pupils I wasn't even really aware of.

noodlenoggen said...

Haha, funny timing indeed, you just lectured about this last week, Pete. Quite the improvement just with those few minor adjustments.

And gosh, those 80's cartoons that John was posting screencaps of sure are PAINFUL. Doesn't sound like they could have been very fun to work on.

Er, and this is Deven, by the way. Can't remember ever posting on here before, haha.

Sandy C. said...

this is amazingly helpful- i've printed this out and taped it onto my wall for future reference! Thanks!

Eric Scales said...

While it is best to think of the eye as a sphere within the folds of the skin, I always kind of have thought of it in slightly 2-D terms when it comes to the actual outer shape of the eye. Specifically the direction of the pupil should almost pull at the shape of the eye distorting it just a bit.

rad sechrist said...

Great site with really great information.

Mr. Semaj said...

Disney still has their recently revived shorts program, which was launched around the time Princess and the Frog was greenlit. The problem is they're hardly using it. One short became a TV holiday special last year, and another before that was withheld for some unknown reason. Nothing is being said of the at least two other shorts still in production.

It would be nice if Disney animators could work the ranks, but when it comes to theatrical-quality animation, they can never keep up with a shorts program, maybe even for those who are more interested in shorts than features. Even the top Disney and Pixar animators of our generation were robbed of that chance when they began during the 70's, since the whole department was barely making anything.

Carlo Lo Raso said...

Great stuff as usual Pete.
I just finished some sketches and now I think I better go back and check the eyes!

David R said...

Hey Pete,

I'd love a post on girls' (females') lips. I always find those tough and you have them down.

Ross Irving said...

Oh man, I completely forgot about that! The shape of the eye and how it can slightly bulge in the direction the pupil is facing. Thanks, Pete.

Mitch K said...

Pete, your version of the girls is totally more appealing! Not only are the girls more solid, but they're also posed better -- and you barely changed the poses! A little asymmetry went a long way.

david gemmill said...

wow. you totally fixed the wonky drawings. how long did that take you? Probably not THAT long i'd imagine.

It's too bad someone couldn't have gone over the scene quickly, and then the artist would have learned from his/her mistakes. That is another problem. There is no time to learn on a production, unless you put in the extra time and force yourself too.

But i see artists just pumping out poo just for paychecks. Someone should tell them in the Arnold tone ala kindergarten cop "You lack discipline!"


great post!

David Nethery said...

Pete's comments and drawing demonstration are well taken , though I'm inclined to agree with Floyd Norman : there were extenuating circumstances in the rushed production of this movie that forced some artistic compromises , especially in the clean-up which was widely dispersed to various out-source production houses . (who were even more squeezed for time and working on much lower budgets than the main studio in Burbank)

I think Pete found a particularly unappealing frame grab, but it's not like the whole movie had those problems. (every animated movie has some "iffy" scenes , including many of the "classics" ) I'm sure we could find some equally ugly frames from classic Disney films like "Dumbo" or "Cinderella" which were also rush jobs that involved a certain amount of compromise that none of the artists liked, but the pictures had to get done. The PATF crew did an extraordinary job given the lack of ramp-up time and then the lack of time in general. Things were being pushed through that in years past would have been massaged a bit more .


I think because of past artistic triumphs by the Disney Studio people are sometimes under the illusion that Disney has unlimited time and money to lavish on every production. That's not always the case .

People who've never done it should walk a few miles in the shoes of the artists who worked on PATF under less-than-ideal circumstances before you post judgmental comments like "i see artists pumping out poo just for paychecks."

I know most of the people who worked on PATF. Not one of them had the attitude that they were "pumping out the poo just for paychecks". The crew did the best they could given the rushed production schedule.

I can appreciate the constructive criticism coming from someone like Pete because he can walk the talk in terms of his own drawing skills.

Although in all honesty, Pete, as far as I know you've never been down in the trenches on an animated feature. Sometimes the artists are forced to let a scene go through that they know isn't right or isn't as good as it could be with another few days of tweaking it, but the production manager's iron fist will fall hard on the artist who tries to hold on to a scene to tweak it, and scenes are often literally pulled off the desks of of animators and clean up artists who have worked late nights and weekends -- with no overtime pay, just doing it for the love of the craft -- trying to make last minute fixes, but sometimes you can only do so much before they take it from you because the footage quota has to be met for that week.

Pete Emslie said...

David - You've raised some very valid points and I can sympathize with what I agree was probably a very rushed schedule for the animation crew to deal with. While I realize there are always some brief shots in most of the features that when closely scrutinized look inferior in execution to the rest of the picture, I still feel that this frame grab points up some very real problems rife within the industry today.

At the heart of the matter, I believe that the fault lies with the tragic decision under Eisner's reign to shut down traditional animation altogether. Now, six years later, many of the former top Disney talents have since been scattered to the wind, eventually settling into positions at other studios. So, in reviving Disney's traditional animation department, the Studio now finds itself having to hire a few rookies to meet the demands of production. I say this with no malice towards these less seasoned animators, but it is a reality that we should acknowledge. If the powers that be at Disney are dedicated to the continuation of the legacy of hand-drawn animation, then they cannot keep letting artists go once production on a feature has come to a close. In order to maintain high standards, Disney must have new film productions in the pipeline to keep the talent busy and honing their craft. Letting people go between projects and then hiring "pickup" animators for the next one will not ensure any ongoing consistent quality.

For the record, it bothers me no end that Disney has allowed such major talents as Dave Pruiksma, Will Finn, Ellen Woodbury, James Baxter and many others to slip away over the years. Talent must be nurtured and made to feel welcome in the long term at Disney if the bar is to remain high. So, yes, I remain critical of the system.

David Nethery said...

"For the record, it bothers me no end that Disney has allowed such major talents as Dave Pruiksma, Will Finn, Ellen Woodbury, James Baxter and many others to slip away over the years.

Talent must be nurtured and made to feel welcome in the long term at Disney if the bar is to remain high."


-----

Totally agree with you on that , Pete. And even as recently as the end of PATF they let some major talents slip out the back door again (Sandro Cleuzo , to name just one) .

I was happy that they made Prep & Landing as a way of keeping a portion of the of CG animation crew busy between the end of Bolt and the ramp-up to full production on Rapunzel. A pity the same care couldn't have been extended to the traditional animation crew of Princess & the Frog. That crew could have been rolled on to a hand-drawn animated Christmas Special for next year's Christmas season or some other short project(s). Why not ? But it seems that the traditional animators are just not considered as valuable .

CJ said...

I noticed how poorly the girls were done when I first went to see this.

And I agree with Naveen(?). I instantly got the jawline of Eric and the nose and eyes of Aladdin. But the fact they considered making him colored at all makes me a bit happy since I was sick of seeing colored leads in Disney films when I was a kid.
Which reminds me, there was an amazing link you had in one of your entries of a fellow animator who loves making in-depth crits of Disney's films. His name started with "M." Might you relink him to me if you know who I'm speaking of?

agentR said...

Too many of the "ethnic" Disneyesque characters are just the same caucasians reused and with a different color. I get the feeling that they fear insulting someone by using "ethnic" features, when really it's more of an insult not to.
~r.

Mark Heng said...

Your insights are invaluable. Thanks for the eyeball tutorial.

By the way, I bought a second hand copy of "Mickey's Once Upon A Christmas", thinking it would be a cool addition to my almost 2 year old's animation collection...BIG MISTAKE!

Elana Pritchard said...

very cool lesson, Pete!

Jean-Denis Haas said...

Being a 3D animator I shouldn't even post here due to my lack of knowledge of design, but I just wanted to post the question: do all the girls have to look at Naveen's eyes? To me the girls are depicting shallow characters who are only interested in superficial elements, like the handsome look of the prince, or who are at least easily smitten by good looks. Prince Naveen's perfect teeth could be the focus of interest of the 2nd girl, no? At least that's how I saw it, and it gives the girls a bit more contrast in terms of focus, instead of having all of them look at his eyes only.

Pete Emslie said...

Jean-Denis: While the girls could be checking out Naveen's perfect teeth, I think it's safe to say that this example is more likely a case of sloppy drawing. Trust me, there is a lot that is not up to Disney standards in this particular screen grab. Since writing this piece however, I've had the chance to watch the film again now that it is out on video, and I must admit this shot is only on screen for a brief second or two, so it probably is not that important how precisely it is drawn in the grand scheme of things. I can appreciate the time and budget constraints that the artists had to deal with, so when a few shots have to be hastily drawn, I reckon that's just the unfortunate reality these days.

Jean-Denis Haas said...

Yeah, production crunch can be tough. I'm sure people were aware of the shortcomings, but you have to pick your battles.

Alex said...

Wow everything you say makes sense. Your pupils are so lucky.

Raven M. Molisee: said...

Eye direction is one of my pet-peeves as well. Makes or breaks a scene for me.

I really, REALLY enjoyed reading this. Very analytical, just the way I like it. I only recently watched The Frog Princess for the first time, and while it was much better than anticipated, scenes (like exactly the one you've broken down here) stood out enough to bother me. In the poses you've redone, even the hands and such are organized much more aesthetically--they don't get lost in the neck or share lines with the face like some do in the original.